OIL IN WATER
Avery stood at Marty’s drafting table, pouring over drawings of the TDU, matching up the drawings with the real thing. At ground level, the outside of the TDU’s receiving station looked like a gigantic child’s play chest. Sliding metal doors opened and disappeared within the grated metal exterior framework – the classic European pocket door – to reveal a cavernous opening that funneled trash to the giant cylindrical tank housed below ground. With this design, Marty had been able to back his tractor right into the barn and utilizing the trailer’s hydraulic lift, pour the trash directly into the yawning mouth of the cylinder.
Marty’s TDU was a democratic machine, treating all trash equally as long as it was carbon based. Once inside, the trash was mixed with water to create a slurry, an insoluble, goopy mess. The slurry passed through a pipeline to a holding tank where it was heated under pressure until it reached a reaction temperature. Another pipeline, a third unit, also cylindrical – Marty Tirabi was fond of circles – ferried the slurry along to where it finished its initial reaction and was flashed again. Here the gaseous products were spun off, the pressure lowered, the liquids separated from the volatile chemicals. Marty built a series of interconnected pipelines placed one on top of the other, some at 90 degree angles of each other, a steel matrix within which to house the myriad and varied reactions occurring. Step five was another series of thinner cylinders, three in a row, tall and demure, sitting side-by-side like young girls at their first dance, waiting to be asked. But size was no indication of their strength. In these cylinders Marty heated the mixture, separating water from gas from light oils which led to the final stage, two large, squat holding tanks where Marty intended to store the gas and light oils. Even staggering the six stages of equipment at forty-five degree angles of each other, the prototype was huge and encompassed the entire back wall of the barn.
Avery sighed and flopped down at the drafting table. Marty had said there was a problem with water. Was it too much or too little? Avery couldn’t remember. Gil knew, but damn it, he wouldn’t help. Avery was on his own. And with at least two dozen blueprints, this was going to take a while. Maybe a little meditation was in order.
Avery practiced meditation in fits and starts. When he did, a wonderful clarity always ensued, imbibed with an acute awareness of being in the present. And the help always came with it, fecund and unbidden. From where it came, he really couldn’t say. Probably the universal mind, the brain trust, as he referred to it. From ions, or static or electricity. From nowhere and everywhere. He knew at times he’d tapped into the morphogenic field where ideas were traded like stocks on the NASDAQ, the theory being that if a monkey in Costa Rica learned to drive a car, a monkey on the Rock of Gibraltar could do the same without even meeting the Costa Rican monkey. Or perhaps he’d tapped into the Zero Point Field, that eerie, brave new world where discoveries were deposited in the cosmic bank account, waiting to be withdrawn by anyone holding a debit card. He’d read plenty on comparative religion, and had a few surreal experiences in his lifetime, enough to recognize the signs of a downloading from the One Mind when he felt it, which he rarely did. But Gil made regular withdrawals, engaged in constant conversation, slept with it under his pillow. For Gil, change and enlightenment were the same, immediate and visceral, played out physically each time he had a fit or an idea.
For the rest of the world struggling to catch up, the only acceptable change was a gradual climb up a low-grade mountain, the steps laborious and slow. And morphogenic field or not, it still took time for all the other monkeys to accept their new knowledge. Even if they could do it, did they want to do it? Even if he could fix this invention – something he didn’t have a whole lot of faith in at the present moment – Marty had said it would make the world stand on its head. Was the world ready for such a precarious position? Come to think of it, was he?
Avery needed Gil’s fertile mind where you could plant the seed and days or weeks later the answer sprung forth like Athena from Zeus’s head, in full warrior regalia, engaged and ready for battle. Gil’s epilepsy fueled his creativity; the disease forced him into the Zone where he was working out some serious past-life crap. Avery felt helpless at these times, but appeased himself with the thought that you can’t work someone’s karma out for them, a fact that at the tender age of ten, Gil completely understood.
“Gil.” Avery walked to the living room and shouted for his brother. “Gil!”
A muffled, “he’s in his room” wafted up from Kori’s corner of the basement. Avery nodded a thanks that she couldn’t see and went upstairs to find Gil.
He rapped on the door – the music was so loud the door handle was vibrating – and stepped into the room. Unless Gil was hiding under the bed, he wasn’t here. Avery checked the closet – sometimes Gil liked to hang out in the back of it with a flashlight and pretend he was a secret agent or something – then under the bed. He took a peek out Gil’s window. A light was on in the barn, even though it was broad daylight. Gil hard at work . He shut off the stereo and headed for the barn.
The wind whipped across barren fields where only rolled bales of hay remained. The oak trees swayed and heaved in fits of laughter as the wind rose up, intertwined with their naked branches and whispered secrets only the oaks could understand. Avery took inventory. All healthy, thank God. A couple dozen were in striking distance of both the barn and house. He’d hate to see the damage one rotten tree could cause in a windstorm like this.
He touched the bear totem pole rooted to the ground, facing the barn. It was six feet high, a hundred feet from the barn’s entrance; its eyes saw all who moved through those doors. Marty had carved it out of a tree gone rotten at the base after Gil had noticed it swaying in a windstorm much like this one.
Marty relayed the information to Ruth who, noticing the swing set was in the probably trajectory of the tree should it fall, called a tree service. The tree service couldn’t come for two days. Ruth told Marty to leave the tree alone, that if it hadn’t fallen by now, it wasn’t going to fall in the next two days, and left on an errand.
But Marty couldn’t leave anything alone, especially a rogue tree, threatening him through his barn window. Ruth’s tire tracks weren’t even cooled before Marty got out the ropes and chain saw. The whir of power tools called the kids to the backyard, but Marty banished them to the deck, more than a safe distance away, until he was done with the felling. After that, it was all fun and games. The kids played happily on the fallen log while Marty used his chain saw on the part of the tree still in the ground and routed out the finer stuff. When he’d finished, Marty had transformed his enemy into a vigilant friend, the coolest totem pole the kids had ever seen. One paw rested on the bear’s stomach as if he’d just eaten lunch. His mouth was open, exposing healthy, yet deadly incisors; his eyes were wide as if he’d just spotted something. Marty let Kori paint the eyes and claws and big scary teeth all white, and when it was dry, he let the kids crawl all over it, something they still did years later whenever they hung out in the backyard. Avery smiled and rubbed his hand inside the bear’s mouth. For luck.
Avery tapped lightly on the barn window. Gil threw the dead bolt and waved him in. Avery dropped the roll of Marty’s drawings on the table and removed his coat while Gil closed and locked the door behind him.
“Toasty in here,” Avery said. Gil had the space heater cranked up and it felt like a kabillion degrees in the barn. “Why don’t you wear a sweater like most people do in cold weather and then you won’t need the heat to be so high?”
“Cause I wanted to wear my lizard shirt.” Gil looked down at his black t-shirt with the lizard face on it and smiled.
“What’cha got going on here?” Avery asked.
“Building something,” Gil said.
“I see that. But what is it?” To Avery, it looked like a souped up go-cart. He walked over and surveyed the frame and held a tentative hand out to touch it. The frame proved incredibly durable. “May I?”
Gil nodded and Avery stepped up on the floor board, testing the weight load by jumping up and down on it.
“Come here. I’ll show you.” Gil pushed Avery’s own drawings aside and peered over a stack already open on the drafting table.
Avery sifted through them, his excitement growing. “It’s a hybrid engine? Are you using technology that’s out there or is this something…?”
“New. Dad says you can’t talk about something until you finish or you lose the muse. So I can’t talk about it.”
“You have a muse? Who is it?”
“You know. A pretty lady. Sometimes she sings.”
“What’s her name?”
“She never said.”
“Is she real or you made her up?
“How do you know?”
“Because I just know. She comes at night. Sometimes she whispers ideas in my ear or if I’m stuck on something, she helps me solve it.” Gil looked down at his hands and turned them over, inspecting them. “Sometimes she just holds my hand. She says they’re soft.” Gil smiled sheepishly. Avery snickered, but turned away before Gil caught him.
“She helped me with that,” he said pointing to the ATV. “It’ll be more energy efficient than the others. Less fuel, less charging time, and the batteries’ll be smaller.”
“Hmmph,” Avery said, pondering the blueprints. “How long until you think you’ll be done?” Gil shrugged his shoulders and spun around on his stool. “Well, just let me know and I’ll get busy on the patent.” Avery flipped through the drawings. “Is there anything I can start on now?”
Gil unclamped the vice grips holding the drawings in place and rolled them up, a dismissal. Apparently, the conversation was for the present, concluded. Gil unrolled Avery’s drawings flat and used the vice-grip to clip the topsides to the edge of the drafting table. He reviewed them carefully for several minutes, unclamped the vice-grip, rolled the drawings back up and handed them to Avery. Then he walked over to the hammock where Max reclined.
How’d you get him up there?” Avery asked. Gil shrugged like it was no big deal and lay down next to Max who, startled from sleep, emitted a small yelp.
“I need your help,” Avery said. Gil nestled in close, warming himself against Max’s monstrous shape. The hammock moved in a rhythmic, rocking motion. He shook his head and buried it in Max’s face.
Gil buried his face deeper into Max’s fur.
“Gil. Why the hell not?”
“I just don’t want to do it alone.”Avery detected a tremor in Gil’s voice and mistook it for fear.
“You won’t have to do it alone. I’ll help you.” Gil shook his head vehemently and Avery dropped his voice, low and soothing.
“Are you afraid? Don’t be afraid. The barn’s alarmed. And I swear I’ll keep you safe.”
“I’m not afraid,” Gil spat out. “I just…I can’t do it without Dad. It was his. Not mine. I can only do it if he says I can.”
“But, Gil. Dad’s dead.”
“I know that Avery!” Avery didn’t notice the tears gathering in Gil’s eyes and continued.
“Well, he’s not going to be saying anything again.”
“How do you know?” Gil shouted.
It was the first time Gil had shown such emotion and made Avery realize the unbearable angst Gil had been carrying since his father died. A sudden queasy feeling gripped Avery; it couldn’t have been worse if he’d been sucker punched.
“You don’t know anything.” Gil jumped off the hammock and ran for the door. Max tried to follow, but his foot got stuck in between the knots. He sat there whimpering, trying to disengage his paw. Gil unlocked the dead bolt and ran out failing to deactivate the silent alarm. Avery watched Gil run across the yard, unaware that downtown at the police station, another alarm screamed out a warning.
Max yelped in frustration. Avery untangled his foot and lifted him out of the hammock. Max took off after Gil through the open door. Avery sat back on the hammock and rocked, listening to the howling of the wind.
“Now what?” Avery said to himself. He really didn’t expect an answer.
“Stuff envelopes,” a voice said. Avery landed on his hands and knees and scanned the space around him. The queasy feeling was back. He sucked at the ambient air.
“Mom?” He stood up and looked uneasily around the barn. As much as he would love to sit down and have a heart-to-heart conversation with his mother, the shock might be enough to kill him. He took several tentative steps, swiped the drawings off the drafting table and high-stepped it out of the barn, slamming the door behind him. He didn’t stop to lock it.
Two minutes later, he threw off his coat and sat down at the kitchen table. Stacks of paper and envelopes crowded the kitchen’s surface areas. He scanned the room. The project would take all day. Avery shivered and with a single glance back toward the barn, folded one of the sheets of paper in three and stuffed the first envelope. He looked again before stuffing another. Nothing was amiss. He began folding and stuffing in earnest and after several minutes, the repetitive motion of his task took the chill out of his spine.
to be continued. . .
to read what came before start here. . .